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Britain bounced into number one spot as Europe's most digital market on Tuesday, largely due to digital TV spending ahead of the World Cup.

The latest research from Informa Telecoms and Media ranks the UK as the most digital state in western Europe based on the research firm's quarterly Converging Media (CM) index. The final quarter score of 2005 for the UK was 30.5 points based on advanced-digital-content consumption through broadband, digital TV, and mobile phone platforms.

Ireland ranked seventh in a list of 10 western European countries with a CM score of 17.4, ahead of Switzerland, Denmark and Norway.

Informa analyst Steve Mullins told ENN that the Republic's small market in terms of number of households may skew the results favourably for Ireland. For example, Informa's total broadband penetration figure for Ireland as of the end of 2005 - derived from "large broadband providers in Ireland" - is 18.4 per cent: equivalent to 250,000 subscribers.

In comparison, the sixth-place Netherlands has 59 per cent broadband penetration with four million subscribers, while Switzerland - which ranked joint seventh alongside Ireland with a CM score of 17.4 - has 55 per cent broadband penetration with 1.7m subscribers.

According to Informa, the total number of Irish digital TV subscriptions at the end of 2005 was 534,000 up from 515,000 the previous quarter, thus household penetration stands at 39.3 per cent. Meanwhile in the UK, Informa believes the huge digital TV penetration is based on BskyB packages and BBC Freeserve, and that fact alone may have put the UK on top of the list.

"The UK is by far Western Europe's most digital market and its surprising number-one ranking is due to the huge take-up of digital TV. The sector now boasts a base of almost 17m users," Mullins said. "On top of digital TV, the UK market also added 900,000 new customers to mobile-broadband services (3G) in the final quarter of last year, accounting for an impressive growth of 23 per cent." The UK now has 4.8m high-speed mobile subscribers.

Although ranking second in the CM Index, the Finns outdid the Brits in terms of growth adding 35,000 new 3G subscriptions in the final quarter - a spike of 85 per cent - to give Finland close to 80,000 mobile 3G users.

Irish 3G penetration at the end of 2005 was 6.1 per cent equating to 243,000 subscriptions, the report said.

Italy, although ranked third, as western Europe's leading 3G sector, with close to 10m subscribers. "The country's CM Index of 21.1 is largely based on its mobile performance rather than by fixed broadband and digital TV," said Mullins, who added that having the latest mobile phone was a cultural expression in Italy.

"In Ireland, the pre-Christmas quarter saw a late surge in mobile phone handset sales which are broadband-enabled. Even if people aren't using all their 3G services yet, it does indicate the fast growth of future trends and we are expecting a higher mobile penetration in Ireland by the end of the second quarter of 2006."

Mullins expects to start seeing more digital TV and 3G promotions in Ireland - especially video downloads onto phones and an explosion of user-created content.

Last week, mobile operator Three launched its first pre-pay broadband-enabled mobiles and Mullins said he is interested to see if the Irish market lends itself to people using a 2G bill phone and a separate pre-paid handset for 3G applications.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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